It wasn’t too long ago that Pittston Area football was on everyone’s radar in Northeast Pennsylvania.
But by three years ago, the Patriots were an afterthought. Enter: Mike Barrett.
The former Mid-Valley assistant coach, who had no previous head coaching experience at the varsity level, begins his third season at the helm for the Patriots. And he’s trying to get the Yatesville team back on the map.
“It took a few years, but they really bought into what we’re trying to teach them,” Barrett said. “It was the first time in a long time we had everyone here all summer. They pushed each other.”
Last season’s campaign was a solid one down the stretch, despite finishing with a 3-7 mark. Abington Heights and Scranton handed Pittston Area a pair of shutout losses to start the season: 28-0 to Abington and 43-0 to Scranton.
From that point, the Patriots played solid football, going 3-5 the rest of the way. Three of those five losses came by seven points or less. Barrett is hoping his gridiron squad can get out of the gates a little quicker this season.
“These kids are positive,” Barrett said. “Like I tell them all the time ‘Why Wyoming Valley West, why Berwick, why Dallas? Why not Pittston Area?’” Barrett said. “I think they believe in that and want it to be their turn.”
Pittston Area brings back a cast of characters that provided much of the punch last season. Gone are some key positions, but not so much skill players. Joe Starinsky, who led the team in catches and scoring will be missed. The rushing duo of Justin Shirk and Marc Romanczuk, who provided the team with over 600 yards on the ground are also gone.
But behind second-year starting quarterback James Emmett, Pittston Area brings back several skill positions that can flourish under Barrett.
Junior Kyle Gattusso and senior Hassan Maxwell are a pair of great athletes that Barrett thinks have the knack and instincts to make some big plays this season. They’ll use mostly a one-back formations, so both those players may not be on the field at the same time.
“Kyle can be very, very dangerous and also Hassan,” Barrett said. “They have great instincts and a knack where they are in the field. Between them they can be very dangerous.”
Emmett had a solid season for the Patriots under center. His completion percentage was a little low, but he did have four games of multiple touchdown passes. He’ll have to do it this season with a receiving corps that lacks experience.
“He’s another year older,” Barrett said. “I think one more year really makes a difference for Emmet. He’s grown physically and mentally, and I think he’ll have a lot more confidence this year.”
But in the receiving corps, Pittston Area does lack experience. Josh John and Rich Weinstock will do the heavy lifting on the outside. John and Weinstock had three catches each last season. They’ll be joined by Michael Schwab, an excellent all-around athlete, and Angelo Aita.
Last season, you really didn’t know what you were getting with the Patriots’ defense. Pittston Area gave up 35 or more points in five games a year ago. But they did show signs of progress in several games.
The Patriots changed defensive coaches this season. But Barrett likes how the players bought into the new scheme.
R.J. Hass and Maxwell are the leading tacklers returning. Hass, a defensive end, made 38 tackles a year ago, including four tackles for loss. Maxwell, a linebacker, chipped in with 69 tackles, the second most on the team to Sam Falcone, who is lost to graduation.
Gattuso and Schwab will return in the secondary.
“In games where we couldn’t establish the run offensively, we struggled to stop the run,” Barrett said. “(This year) we have great quickness in all positions.”
The Patriots are fairly young behind the line on defense. Aita and John will be new starters in the defensive backfield. Shane Flannelly, Zack Hoffman, Joe Montini and Rich Weinstock will control most of the linebacking duties. Hoffman and Weinstock are the only seniors.
“We’re bigger and we’re a much faster football team,” Barrett said.